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By J. Sheridan LeFanuCarmilla by wildclaw theater

A World Premiere Adaptation by

Aly Renee Amidei

Directed by Scott Cummins

Produced by WildClaw Theatre

At Chicago DCA Storefront Theater

Uneven vampire thriller fails to scare or thrill

Written in 1872, LeFanu’s Carmilla was 25 years ahead of Dracula but it never reached the fame of  Stokers’ Gothic horror story.  Using Aly Renee Amidei’s wordy and weirdly lame adaptation, with director Scott Cummins’ questionable casting and unfolding with a slow pace, this Carmilla is a mixed bag of boring melodrama and predictable and ill-timed horrific bloody vampire fight and biting scenes.  There are stiff performances, loads of screaming, and wild blood letting that unfortunately fails to either scare nor thrill. Some of the dialogue was so poorly written or translated and/or delivered by the cast that the audience reacted with belly laughs. That is not what you want if your trying to build enough suspense to scare audiences.

Carmilla by wildclaw theater

This uneven production slows down to a crawl as it gets bogged down with long wordy text narrative thus deluding the build up of dramatic tension. Poor acting and all those horrible accents that include British, Russian, French and an assortment of Eastern European dialects served to irritate more than enlighten. What is a English girl doing with her family in an Eastern European castle in the mid 1800’s?

Carmilla by wildclaw theater

The story revolves around the young English girl, Laura, (the stiff Brittany Burch) living in a castle who becomes intrigued with a mysterious female house guest – Carmilla (terrific work by Michaela Petro). The two become lesbian lovers. The countryside falls victim to a series of bloody murders nimbly staged by the energetic cast. Many of the scenes are  wildly thrilling and manically stage. Too bad we have to suffer through the numerous tedious ‘talky’ scenes that droned on before the action resumes.

Carmilla by wildclaw theaterCarmilla by wildclaw theater

At two hours and twenty-five minutes, Carmilla could use a 30 minute trim plus a tighter pace and stronger actors could make this work less melodramatic and more of a Gothic horror work that could chill us to the bone. As presented now, Carmilla gets more laughs than screams from the audience. Could be that the laughs cover the restlessness from all the boring scenes?

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

At the DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph, Chicago, IL

2 thoughts on “Carmilla

  • Not having seen the production, I can’t comment but I can address the more general ignorance of your critic, as I am currently preparing a feature film adaptation of Carmilla.

    Firstly, Carmilla was written in English, you can read the entire thing here for yourself. At first, I thought he was referring to the ‘translation’ from novella to theatre but he makes clear eventually that he thinks it was written in a foreign language. Le Fanu had Romanian ancestors but was born and raised in Dublin while it was still a part of the United Kingdom and spoke and wrote in English.

    Secondly, Carmilla is set in Syria, a province of Austria, which is Central Europe not Eastern (although we know American grasp of geography outside the US is flawed!). The first draft of Dracula was also set here until Stoker came across a travelogue in the British library describing a trip up the Borgo pass which he borrowed as the setting for Dracula’s castle. Previously he had borrowed Le Fanu’s location of Styria (Stoker borrowed so much some have referred to him as a plagiarist and he was employed by Le Fanu at one point before he moved to London)

    Thirdly, the opening of Carmilla explains perfectly what a young British girl would be doing in Central Europe as her father had been in the Austro-Hungarian army and had bought a castle with his pension. Of course if the adaptor forgot to put this in he can be forgiven for not having done any external research for the normal reasons of journalistic laziness.

    Finally, a young British girl in 1871 would have been very stiff. It is a major cultural difference between the US and the UK, where posture and speech were very different. Sounds to me like Brittany Burch is just playing the character as she would have been. Your critic can relax though as now all British girls sound like California girls misusing awesome and shouting OH MY GOD all the time as the UK airwaves and cinemas are dominated by American culture (if that is not a textbook example of an oxymoron.

    It is of course possible that this production is a turkey but it sounds to me more that the critic was ill-prepared to witness it.

  • The only valid point in your comments is that I should use “adaptation” instead of “translation” -which I have now corrected. I must say that the production I saw and the press notes and two long pages of notes by the adapter and by Kenneth Hite from Weird Tales magazine did not explain about either the location nor why an English family would be in Eastern Europe – which is mentioned several times. It is the responsibility of the producer to let audiences know things like location if they want their show to have any credibility – not mine. I critique what I’ve seen and read. Before you criticize me, go see the show if you dare.

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